The stock market is made up of exchanges, like the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq. Stocks are listed on a specific exchange, which brings buyers and sellers together and acts as a market for the shares of those stocks. The exchange tracks the supply and demand — and directly related, the price — of each stock. (Need to back up a bit? Read our explainer about stocks.)
For example, there may be three buyers who have placed orders for buying Microsoft shares at $100, $105 and $110, and there may be four sellers who are willing to sell Microsoft shares at $110, $112, $115 and $120. The exchange (through their computer operated automated trading systems) needs to ensure that the best buy and best sell are matched, which in this case is at $110 for the given quantity of trade.
A stock's market capitalization (cap) is the sum of the total shares outstanding multiplied by price. For example, if a company has 1 million outstanding shares priced at $50, its market cap would be $50 million. It has more meaning than the share price because it allows you to evaluate a company in the context of similar-sized companies in its industry. A small-cap company with a capitalization of $500 million shouldn't be compared to a large-cap company worth more than $10 billion. Here are how companies are generally grouped:
Stockbrokers, also known as registered representatives in the U.S., are the licensed professionals who buy and sell securities on behalf of investors. The brokers act as intermediaries between the stock exchanges and the investors by buying and selling stocks on the investors' behalf. An account with a retail broker is needed to gain access to the markets.
When selecting a new online broker, the first step is to read reviews and see what features matter most to you. Are low-cost trade commissions most important? What about customer service, the trading platform, mobile app, investment research, ease of use, or education? With many brokers specializing in different areas, it is crucial to evaluate all categories by reading full-length broker reviews.
Competition has spurred many brokerages to slash commission fees, which can add up quickly if you buy and sell stocks, mutual funds or ETFs frequently. Robinhood is not the only company that does not charge commission fees. Starting in October, Interactive Brokers is providing an unlimited number of commission-free trades on U.S. exchange-traded stocks and ETFs along with no account minimums or inactivity fees.
The exchange also earns from selling market data generated on its platform - like real-time data, historical data, summary data, and reference data – which is vital for equity research and other uses. Many exchanges will also sell technology products, like a trading terminal and dedicated network connection to the exchange, to the interested parties for a suitable fee.
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Why I’m buying: Spell out what you find attractive about the company and the opportunity you see for the future. What are your expectations? What metrics matter most and what milestones will you use to judge the company’s progress? Catalog the potential pitfalls and mark which ones would be game-changers and which would be signs of a temporary setback.